Dad explodes soda


Neon artist Jeff Johnson interprets the word “pop” in his own explosive way.

Neon artist Jeff Johnson interprets the word “pop” in his own explosive way.

Photo By David Robert

The Pop! exhibition at the Record Street Café started with a bang: About halfway through the evening, the café's doorway was commandeered for an impromptu fireworks display. Whirling madly and throwing off sparks, the Chinese lanterns and spinning discs made for a colorful, exciting spectacle—highly apropos for a show that’s full of playful, eye-pleasing works.

“Each artist contributing to the show is working with a different meaning of ‘pop,'” explains filmmaker Nate Atcheson. His short film Animate Objects, in which a group of singing and dancing electronic toys escape a souvenir shop and run amok, played at the show’s July 2 reception. “There’s ‘pop’ as in an explosion, ‘pop’ as in pop culture, and ‘pop’ as in things that are vibrant and pop out at the eye.”

Indeed, most of the art on display falls into more than one of those categories, playing on the different meanings of an apparently simple word.

Artist and pyrotechnics expert James McNulty creates large, elaborate collages of images culled from firecracker wrappers. Lurid, surprisingly detailed cut-outs of animals, ships, flames and fireworks are precisely arranged against abstract geometric backgrounds whose colors evoke wave-tossed seas or starry-night skies. In “Century of Celebration,” McNulty has assembled a collection of vintage wrappers, some more than 100 years old. Other pieces have more sinister, war-like overtones; oil rigs rear menacingly over tanks and bombs, as fires burn on the horizon.

“The medium is the physical embodiment of fireworks,” says McNulty of his explosive art. “Nobody’s ever done anything like this before—these pieces document the history of fireworks.”

McNulty, a member of the Pyrotechnics Guild International, is currently writing a book on the history of fireworks, which will feature his art and accompanying essays.

“Pop’s Art,” by Edie Paul, explores another meaning of “pop.” A tribute to the artist’s father, who was a graphic designer, the piece consists of an artist’s lightbox upon which samples of his work are taped, circa-1950s logos and advertisements for men’s clothing. In notes, Paul explains how her father’s tutelage inspired her own interest in the arts and, later, her career as a graphic artist.

Beth Alice’s “No Pop in Gym” is a sweetly nostalgic multimedia piece. A hand-painted, black-and-white sign reads “No Pop in Gym,” an exhortation taken from the artist’s nephew’s graduation, where signs with the same warning were posted. Festooned with red, white and blue star-shaped lights and metallic tinsel, the piece has a distinctly patriotic and festive feel. In an era where metal detectors and security guards frisk students for hidden weapons and drugs, the sign’s charming earnestness evokes a less-complicated past.

In a nod to one of the most recognizable figures in pop art, “Marilyn” by Ken Hines plays on Andy Warhol’s iconic four-square portrait of Marilyn Monroe. The ubiquitous image, transferred onto an illuminated plastic box, is deliberately ambiguous in intent: It could be high art when seen in a gallery, or a cleverly kitschy wall lamp when hung in your living room. The piece’s mutability, shifting from fine art to commercial product and back, would undoubtedly please Warhol.

Late in the evening, a strange figure appeared out of the darkness: McNulty, on old-fashioned roller skates, with a sparkler in each hand. Frowning in concentration, he sailed backwards through the parking lot, trailing shimmering golden sparks. A contingent of little girls, who had also been provided with sparklers, waved their arms in arcs of fizzing light. Hitting an irregularity in the pavement, McNulty stumbled on his skates, briefly setting his pants on fire. Calmly, he put himself out, and the show went on.